This piece is one of the many well-loved poems included in Williams’ Collected Poems. ‘From My Window’ is representative of much of the poet’s verse in its clear, easy-to-read language that delves into the complexities of the human condition and even alludes to poetic creation more broadly.
Explore From My Window
‘From My Window’ by C.K. Williams is a thoughtful poem describing human suffering and contrasting a privileged life with a far more difficult one.
In the first part of this poem, the poem begins by having a speaker describe his relief at the return of spring after a long, wretched winter. He delves into the main part of the poem as he begins to describe the progress of two homeless men along the sidewalk outside his window. He describes how the two men fell off the sidewalk, and struggled to right themselves while others watched on from the safety of the indoors.
The poet contrasts beautiful poetic language with brutal descriptions of the two men suffering outside away from the comforts that the speaker’s life provides him and others like him.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘From My Window’ by C.K. Williams is an eighty-two-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the poet did not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines have very different endings, for example: “laminar,” “arrive,” “in,” and “winter.”
Despite not using a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, the poem does follow a structure of sorts. The odd-numbered lines are longer, and the even-numbered lines are shorter. The latter is also indented in, creating the feeling of a series of couplets.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Juxtaposition: contrasting images placed close together. For example, the “crocuses” and the “gritty soil.”
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “wretched winter” and “scabby” and “sycamore” in the first few lines.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, “Spring: the first morning when that one true block of sweet, laminar, / complex scent arrives.
Spring: the first morning when that one true block of sweet, laminar,
complex scent arrives
Up the street, some surveyors with tripods are waving each other left and
right the way they do.
In the first few lines of ‘From My Window,’ the speaker (someone looking out their window on a spring morning) describes the arrival of spring scents and the “end of the wretched winter.” Readers can easily interpret a degree of relief in the speaker’s voice as they analyze the new, warmer days of spring.
Specifically, the speaker mentions the budding sycamores across an empty parking lot that they can see from their window and the unlikely “urban crocuses” that have “already broken / the gritty soil.”
Throughout this poem, including in these first lines, the poet makes use of a number of examples of juxtaposition. This is seen through the use of contrasting images next to one another. For example, the word “great” and a crocus, or a beautiful type of flower. The same can be said for describing the sycamore trees as “scabby-barked.”
In contrast to these natural images, the poet describes “surveyors” standing outside with their tripods along the road. This is a site that many readers are likely to relate to, specifically the poet’s description of the surveyors “waving each other left / and right the way they do.” The phrase “the way they do” suggests that readers are going to know exactly what the speaker is talking about. The sights outside his window are familiar to him (and should be easy to imagine for anyone reading the text).
A girl in a gym suit jogged by a while ago, some kids passed, playing
something out, they stopped,
The speaker continues into the next lines describing those he sees on the street below. They range from a girl jogging to some kids playing hooky from school and a “paraplegic Vietnam vet.” The speaker spends several more lines on the vet than he has done on any of the other images so far. He describes the man and his battered wheelchair and the “friend who stays with him.”
The poet includes an example of enjambment at the end of line twenty, prompting the reader to continue on to find out what happened the one time the speaker talked to the Vietnam vet and his friend.
both drunk that time, too, both reeking—it wasn’t ten o’clock—and we
stages from his seat,
The speaker reveals that the one time that he spoke to the Vietnam vet and his friend, they were both drunk and smelling of alcohol. It wasn’t even ten o’clock, the speaker adds. The suggestion of their drunkenness implies that the two turned to alcohol as a means of relieving the stress in their lives.
The speaker wonders how to stay alive, meaning, where they get their money from, and if they are “lovers.” He immediately contradicts the suggestion, saying that you don’t look like they could be instead, they “look a wreck.”
Their lives appear messy and as though they are falling out of control. They are “careening hap- / hazardly along” from place to place and nearly tipping the wheelchair over as a wheel falls off the sidewalk. In this specific instance, the paralyzed man falls out of his chair, almost in slow motion and with a degree of grace, to the ground. The poet continues to use examples of enjambment, stretching this description out over multiple lines.
his expression hardly marking it, the other staggering over him, spinning
there for a moment, panting.
The speaker describes the aftermath of this fall. The friend staggers around him, spinning until he too falls down on the asphalt. Lines like “his mouth working” suggest that despite what seems like an effort at speech, his drunkenness and general disarray keep him from being able to communicate the same can be said for the way his feet shove “weakly and / fruitlessly against the curb.”
Although the speaker spends these first lines describing, and direct and clear detail, what happened to the two men. He follows it up by suggesting that he’s glad that the lookers-on “in the storefront office on the corner” aren’t “laughing.” It’s clear that he empathizes with the two men and doesn’t want them to go through any more trauma than they already have.
Now he has to lift the other, who lies utterly still, a forearm shielding his
The next line describes the un-paralyzed man pulling on a fire hydrant and standing up. He lives with the other, the paralyzed Vietnam vet, and puts some into his chair. The man’s shielding his eyes from the sun, and one of his feet, dangling at an unusual angle, catches a “support plate” and ruins the entire attempt. The friend has to set his companion down on the ground once more, get the chair right, and then lift him once again.
Unfortunately, things get worse during this attempt; the man’s grimy jeans slide off of him, revealing “blotchy thighs” and “white coils of belly blubber.” The man, the speaker reveals, wasn’t wearing underwear, something that’s elaborated on in lines fifty through sixty.
The lines move quickly at this point in the poem. The speaker describes in rapid detail what was happening outside his window and how one event cascaded into the next. He uses an almost stream-of-consciousness style to describe this embarrassing and sad display.
the poor, blunt pud, tiny, terrified, retracted, is almost invisible in the
almost ran, for how many hours.
Finally, the friend gets the paralyzed Vietnam vet into his wheelchair and pulls the man’s pants up. He’s able to relax for a moment after contending with this extremely difficult and brutal situation. He notices the speaker watching in the next lines, and the poet’s speaker can’t help but wonder if he knew he’d been there all along and that this wasn’t the only time he’d observed the two walking along the side of the road.
At this point, the speaker does not appear to feel embarrassed for observing the scene playing out. But, he has made it clear that he feels bad for these two men and does not take any pleasure in their difficult situation.
It was snowing, the city in that holy silence, the last we have, when the
The poem finds its conclusion in the next twenty as the speaker describes how (in the past) the friend, perhaps tormented by the past, his responsibility to the paralyzed Vietnam vet, and other unknown life circumstances ran outside in the snow. He moved chaotically, making “patterns” that the speaker initially thought were circles and then realized very “figure eight.”
He blazed along this path repeatedly as the snow came down on a freezing winter night. There is nothing truly “holy” in the scene or in the emotional torment that the man was contending with, the speaker suggests.
but the race was lost, his prints were filling faster than he made them
The speaker interpreted the man’s movement as a “race” outpacing the snow and maintaining the shape of a figure of eight, the symbol of infinity, in the snow at his feet. No matter what he did, the snow felt faster, and his prints were “feeling faster” than he made them.
In that memory of the winter past, the speaker looks away from the street and into the trees and then to the tall center city buildings and notices that it’s midnight. The lights in the buildings become symbols, signaling “erratically” and standing out starkly against the “thickening flakes” of this winter memory.
They act as “scarlet warning beacons,” signaling the tortured state of humanity, such as that which the two men suffer through on the sidewalk, and standing out starkly from the seeming purity of the winter snow. This is further emphasized by nature’s unrelenting destruction of the man’s figure eight, which, in the morning, was completely obliterated. The snow stood “oblique, relent- / less, unadorned.”
The tone is direct, analytical, and descriptive. However, there are moments where the speaker shows emotion, particularly regarding his distaste for winter and a sort of empathy for the two men struggling on the sidewalk; generally, the poem is emotionless and solely descriptive in nature.
The speaker is unknown. It could be Williams himself. But, there is no strict evidence to state that this is truly the case. The speaker is thoughtful, considerate, empathetic (to a degree), and interested in what’s going on outside. He’s looking on from a place of safety, as the men in the office are. Outside, things are more chaotic and unpredictable.
The message is that inside, one is capable of describing the beauty of nature and the suffering of humanity from a place of safety. But outside, the world is more real. There, away from the protections that wealth and status afford an individual, the world is rough, tormenting, and filled with the true cruelty of winter.
The purpose of this poem is to convey the struggle of those outside the social norm and suggest the more generalized struggle of humanity to find happiness, peace, and success. From his window, the speaker sees a great deal. The scene with the two ill and drunk men represents humanity more generally.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other C.K. Williams poems. For example:
- ‘Alzheimer’s: The Wife’ – is a powerful and moving poem. In it, the poet depicts a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s and a few simple moments from her day.
Some other related poems include:
- ‘I Looked Up from My Writing’ by Thomas Hardy – is an existentially contemplative piece in which a writer is confronted with his own ignorance and irresponsibility.
- ‘The Writer’ by Richard Wilbur – uses clever and creative examples of figurative language in order to depict the struggle new and experienced writers go through.